- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Democratic officials are hearing complaints from their party’s grass roots about Howard Dean’s personal political attacks on Republicans, which some fear could undermine attempts to reach out to new voters.

But the chairman of the Democratic National Committee insisted yesterday that positive responses from key supporters have reinforced his determination to keep talking tough.

“People want us to fight,” Mr. Dean told the DNC Executive Committee during a meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in the District. “We are here to fight.”

The complaints appear strongest in red states, where state Democratic leaders say Mr. Dean’s attacks threaten to alienate swing voters. Some are even suggesting that if Mr. Dean does not tone down his angry rhetoric, they may have to look for a new leader.

“Yeah, I’ve gotten calls from people who want to know if there is something I can do to talk to him to be a little more gentle with our Republican friends,” said Larry Gates, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party.

Mr. Gates said he agreed with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who said of Mr. Dean’s attacks: “I’m not sure if the best way to win support in the red states is to insult the folks who live there.”

Mr. Gates said, “I agree with Ken. If Howard Dean were to call and ask for my advice, I would tell him that. Stick to the Democratic message, which he articulates so well.”

Since his election in February, Mr. Dean has been on a whirlwind tour of the country, preaching the Democratic message and avoiding the national spotlight. But that changed dramatically when he started a series of sharp attacks on Republicans that has caused many Democrats to distance themselves from his remarks.

Among the remarks: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has not been charged with any crime, should go back to Texas “where he can serve his jail sentence”; a lot of Republicans “have never made an honest living in their lives”; and the GOP is “pretty much a white Christian party.” Mr. Dean has also called Republicans “evil,” “corrupt” and “brain-dead.”

Last week, Democratic state chairmen such as Mr. Gates said they were getting feedback from the party’s grass roots, saying Mr. Dean needs to turn down the heat in his attacks.

“I’ve had calls from people who are offended by his remarks. People say it’s a little strong,” said Idaho Democratic Chairman Richard Stallings, a former congressman.

But some DNC members said yesterday that Mr. Dean was doing exactly what they elected him to do — build the party in all states and aggressively challenge Republicans.

“I hope Governor Dean will remember that he didn’t get elected to be a wimp,” said Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a South Carolina state representative. “We have been waiting a long time for someone to stand up for Democrats.”

However, the list of Democrats who distanced themselves from their party chairman lengthened over the weekend.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2008, said Mr. Dean was using “not the kind of tone that I would use, not the kind of tone a lot of Democratic governors in mostly Republican states are using to get elected or to govern.”

Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee, a Democrat who plans to run for the Senate, warned that if Mr. Dean did not “temper his comments, it may get to the point where the party may need to look elsewhere for leadership, because he does not speak for me.”

Other party leaders, such as voter-outreach strategist Donna Brazile say Mr. Dean’s troubles will soon blow over. “Some insiders continue to grumble, but they are doing so for other reasons, presidential ambitions,” Miss Brazile said.

“Outside the Beltway, the party’s loyalists are tired of the insiders complaining every time Dean opens his mouth. They want Dean to represent the loyal opposition and not the diplomatic wing of the Democratic Party,” she said.

The DNC chairman did not mention the flap over his recent comments during yesterday’s meeting, but did accuse Republicans of trying to suppress the vote, selling access to the White House to lobbyists and basically being dishonest with the public.

“The reason the Republicans are in trouble is because there are so many cases where they say one thing and do something else,” Mr. Dean said.

A spokeswoman for the RNC said Mr. Dean would rather sling mud than discuss serious matters.

“Dean’s inflammatory rhetoric makes it clear that Democrats have no vision and would rather pander to the maniacal fringe than talk about the important issues facing our country,” Tracey Schmitt said.

This article is based in part on wire reports.

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